May 14, 2024, 06:27AM

Neoist Party Time

A conversation with Monty Cantsin Amen.

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The late-1970s were a great time to be alive, young, and party. At least they were that way for me in Baltimore. There were a lot of crazy creative people running around with endless parties, art openings, clubs, live music, and happy hours to kill the tedium. Istvan Kantor, alias Monty Cantsin Amen, blew into town around that time (1979) like an invading nomadic warrior with the perfunctory raping and pillaging of the trendy local hip crowd. Meanwhile, he's confounding and befriending the so-called arts community with his bloodletting and military-chic, tactical fashion sense. Monty still creates blood paintings all these decades after the act, but he’s more than that one kind of creepy fact.

I found him entertaining, and although I never officially joined his Neoist Movement, I followed his antics around town and attended some of the Apartment festivals centered around Neoists in the city. He’s been at it for decades promoting the doctrine of Neoism in NYC, Toronto, Montreal, Europe, China, and beyond. He’s performed around the world, heralding Neoist philosophy, and gained a reputation as the founder of Neoism. All of this happened before the internet, and much of the success was due hugely to Mail Art.

Tom DiVenti: Neoism is alive and well. Is that a fair assessment?

Monty Cantsin: It’s not like before, but I still communicate with lots of people. It’s more a mental exercise. I’m writing books that relate to Neoism.

TD: I saw you just had a book tour in China recently.

MC: I keep promoting. China’s a great place for that, and I have many good friends there. I’ve been there three times; each time I traveled around and was even in Mongolia doing performances, and I find that China has more happening in the arts than anywhere else.

TD: Is that because they like performance art?

MC: Performance art and visual arts, too. The artists are using abandoned industrial buildings as places to create art. It’s not like here in North America, where everything is gentrified. There are still places there, like old factories, to utilize as studios or performing arts for little or nothing rent-free.

TD: I see you’re still doing your blood paintings.

MC: I still do that; it’s very important. Just a few days ago, I did a new series of blood works. I do it only once a month.

TD: I remember you doing a blood work painting back in 1979 or ‘80 in Baltimore. Many people were freaked out by it at the time, I guess for obvious reasons. Some were just disgusted, while others, like myself, were intrigued. The stigma and fear of needles and blood.

MC: I’m very careful with my own blood. I learned how to do it in medical school. I was a paramedic in Hungary in my early years. Likewise, I was working as a nurse. I saw many bloody accidents and suicides, so you get used to the horror of it.

TD: What was the performance you did with metal file cabinets?

MC: That was a while ago. I made file cabinet sculptures between 1993 and 2005 thereabouts. I moved from NYC to Toronto, Canada, because I lost my NY apartment due to gentrification. Not only that, but I rented a studio space in an office building, and the first thing I found in a freight elevator was all these file cabinets that were left behind. I fell in love with the idea of them as sculptural objects. Opening and closing the drawers, banging and humping them. It’s a very big noise, like an acoustic drum. An instrument you can amplify and distort, and then I mechanically motorized them and made robotic file cabinets. I was using high-tech computer-controlled performances. I traveled with them in Europe and even big festivals like Ars Electronica. File cabinets are now obsolete, but you need to store hard copies somewhere because if you lose information digitally, you lose everything without backing up paper files.

TD: The problem with the digital age. So what’s the significance of the flaming electric steam iron?

MC: In the very beginnings of Neoism, Chi Chi Boom Boom, a Montreal Neoist, started using iron. Then I began using the flaming iron, and it became a very important Neoist icon image on the flag of Neoism. The flaming iron, in the 1950s and 60s in America, you know the housewives ironing the shirts of the man representing oppression, and when you turn it over and set it aflame, then it becomes a flame of freedom.

TD: What’s the message behind your black wolf paintings?

MC: It represents the animal dying or being hunted and slaughtered; people aren’t giving them respect. It’s like today: artists are kicked out everywhere. Maybe it has to do with childhood and those romantic tales of the wolf in fairy tales where you are scared of the big bad wolf. The wolves are a Neoist image for me. Wolves are an endangered species, like all those people on the Lower East Side in NYC. Most of them were so endangered they had to move out or die; it became impossible to survive there because of  gentrification, and I consider artists today an endangered species.

TD: Poets too.

MC: Yes, ha! Poet too! All of that. Graffiti, Punk Rock, Mail Art—through all of that, they organized the first apartment festivals and that’s how I came to Baltimore, and it spread out worldwide. It was needed because the history of the avant-garde wasn’t so important or interesting anymore for the new youth generation. It was too gallery-controlled, too commercial, authoritarian-controlled, so Neoism brought a free anti-authoritarian movement.

TD: What’s your take on life, death, heaven, hell and the afterlife?

MC: This is the afterlife, but after you die, your work sometimes becomes more significant than when you were alive. Your work, books, and poetry will be remembered by survival friends and family. I’m not afraid of dying. We’re always very close to the possibility of death, and the idea of dying is a big part of life. For an artist, it’s a very essential subject, like immortality, which is something to explore, at least in our minds; it’s part of the secret masters of the immortals; it creates a mythology. It’s an important aspect of the artist's life, inspiring as an image of a philosophical ideal. As a continuation of life, it’s nothing real but death itself. It’s absolutely the antidote to the anti-art of life. There’s no life without death. That is what happens in the continuous everyday act of living and life functions we may take for granted.


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